Community Funding Drives Culmore Clinic’s Inter-Faith Mission

DENTIST NATALIA VLASIC takes on one of her first patients after Culmore Clinic expanded its services to include teeth cleanings thanks to a surge of donations. The clinic intends to add ophthalmology services as well in the near future. (Photo: Orrin Konheim)

As dentist Natalia Vlasic prepares for the inaugural day of Culmore Clinic’s dentistry service, she knows she will need exceptional bedside service. She has to create a sense of hospitality for people who might not speak English or might fear authority. Additionally several of her patients might have never been to the dentist as an adult, explains Culmore Clinic’s new executive director Anne-Lise Quinn.

While Quinn laments that “it’s such an injustice” how so many of Culmore’s residents have never been adequately provided for, clinic co-founder Terry O’Hara Lavoie can look back on the 13 years of the clinic’s growth as a miracle of sorts in filling the medical needs of this community.

“We get highly motivated people because the world is a good place and people are generous,” O’Hara Lavoie said. “People catch on to that kindness and generosity and they want to be a part of it.”

The clinic recently boasted incredible growth when their $11,000 year-end donation goal was exceeded by more than $14,000. The $25,000-plus led the non-profit to hire more staff members, keep the doors open an extra day a week, buy medical supplies and help expand the range of services. The center does not rely on local government funding at all.

“I wouldn’t describe us as striking gold. We’re still a scrappy organization who is able to work hard on very meager resources and we’re able to stretch it because of the response and volunteerism of donated time and services,” said O’Hara Lavoie.

The Culmore Clinic reported $1.4 million in donated services. All donated money is matched on a 3-1 basis with services.

“Clearly there’s a need here for medical care, it’s an underserved population, I feel good about helping out in a place that really needs the help,” said volunteer nurse Brigid Hobbs.

Hobbs found out about the organization when her friend, Mary Boland, passed away the previous year. Boland and her husband lent their medical services to Culmore Clinic and donation requests at the funeral were directed here. The following November, there was an advertisement in her inbox for an open house which Hobbs decided to attend and the rest is history.

In addition to the 16 volunteer positions per shift that the clinic relies on in its expanded capacity, there are five part-time staff members working under Quinn, who is the organization’s only full-time employee. Board members such as Monica Granovsky also help out.

“One of the reasons that Culmore [Clinic] is so successful is that it does invest in a core group of key staff…because it’s very hard to run an organization on volunteers,” said Quinn.

The project to provide health care options to the population of the Culmore neighborhood began in 2007 when O’Hara Lavoie sat on the health cabinet of St. Anthony’s of Padua Church with fellow congregant Ann Cartwright. The pair saw that they could use their complementing skills to provide for medical care in the community. Cartwright designed the medical program and O’Hara Lavoie (who previously worked for Survivors’ Fund of 9/11 victims and Washington Grantmakers) dealt with administrative aspects.

“It happened by the grace of God. There’s no explaining it, there really isn’t. We just knew something that needed to be done,” said O’Hara Lavoie.

The clinic came to life through a $75,000 grant from the Northern Virginia Health Foundation. However, O’Hara Lavoie notes that it was the Annandale United Methodist Church that allowed them to open their doors for the first time with a permanent home.

More recently, the dental clinic came to fruition through a partnership with senior-living community Goodwin House in Bailey’s Crossroads and the nonprofit Fenwick Foundation in Arlington.

Alex Gorny, founder and chief executive of the Fenwick Foundation, was on-site on the dental clinic’s first day of operation to see how Vlasic was settling in and to congratulate the Culmore Clinic staff on their success.

“I’ve known about Culmore Clinic for several years, what they do and what their mission is and we connected because they were not able to provide dental services….to their unique population and we connected and that’s why we’re starting our program today,” said Gorny.

While Culmore Clinic was originally conceived in a Catholic church, opened in a mosque, found a greater home in Annandale United Methodist Church and is currently housed at First Christian Church, the group is committed to being non-denominational. They consider their non-profit to be inter-faith with support from 16 different congregations.

“We work very hard to be representative of this area’s diversity,” said O’Hara Lavoie.

The three most frequent languages spoken at the clinic are Arabic, Spanish and Vietnamese, and they have translators for each one. The translators are also specially trained to be fluent in medical terminology and demonstrate bedside manner.

The current dentistry program will be on site approximately once a month.

In the coming year, the Culmore Clinic has plans in place for opening an ophthalmology clinic. They also hope to eventually a phlebotomy clinic program (a medical procedure that draws blood samples).

Beyond that, O’Hara Lavoie says Culmore Clinic aims to become a medical center by providing fundamental services more days a week rather than just operating extra services.